ST. Ives

Page 109

'Sir,' said he, 'you are a man not without some tincture of letters, I perceive! What shall we drink, sir?'

I mentioned I had already called for a pot of porter.

'A modest pot--the seasonable quencher?' said he. 'Well, I do not know but what I could look at a modest pot myself! I am, for the moment, in precarious health. Much study hath heated my brain, much walking wearied my--well, it seems to be more my eyes!'

'You have walked far, I dare say?' I suggested.

'Not so much far as often,' he replied. 'There is in this city--to which, I think, you are a stranger? Sir, to your very good health and our better acquaintance!--there is, in this city of Dunedin, a certain implication of streets which reflects the utmost credit on the designer and the publicans--at every hundred yards is seated the Judicious Tavern, so that persons of contemplative mind are secure, at moderate distances, of refreshment. I have been doing a trot in that favoured quarter, favoured by art and nature. A few chosen comrades--enemies of publicity and friends to wit and wine-- obliged me with their society. "Along the cool, sequestered vale of Register Street we kept the uneven tenor of our way," sir.'

'It struck me, as you came in--' I began.

'O, don't make any bones about it!' he interrupted. 'Of course it struck you! and let me tell you I was devilish lucky not to strike myself. When I entered this apartment I shone "with all the pomp and prodigality of brandy and water," as the poet Gray has in another place expressed it. Powerful bard, Gray! but a niminy- piminy creature, afraid of a petticoat and a bottle--not a man, sir, not a man! Excuse me for being so troublesome, but what the devil have I done with my fork? Thank you, I am sure. Temulentia, quoad me ipsum, brevis colligo est. I sit and eat, sir, in a London fog. I should bring a link-boy to table with me; and I would too, if the little brutes were only washed! I intend to found a Philanthropical Society for Washing the Deserving Poor and Shaving Soldiers. I am pleased to observe that, although not of an unmilitary bearing, you are apparently shaved. In my calendar of the virtues shaving comes next to drinking. A gentleman may be a low-minded ruffian without sixpence, but he will always be close shaved. See me, with the eye of fancy, in the chill hours of the morning, say about a quarter to twelve, noon--see me awake! First thing of all, without one thought of the plausible but unsatisfactory small beer, or the healthful though insipid soda- water, I take the deadly razor in my vacillating grasp; I proceed to skate upon the margin of eternity. Stimulating thought! I bleed, perhaps, but with medicable wounds. The stubble reaped, I pass out of my chamber, calm but triumphant. To employ a hackneyed phrase, I would not call Lord Wellington my uncle! I, too, have dared, perhaps bled, before the imminent deadly shaving-table.'

In this manner the bombastic fellow continued to entertain me all through dinner, and by a common error of drunkards, because he had been extremely talkative himself, leaped to the conclusion that he had chanced on very genial company. He told me his name, his address; he begged we should meet again; finally he proposed that I should dine with him in the country at an early date.

'The dinner is official,' he explained. 'The office-bearers and Senatus of the University of Cramond--an educational institution in which I have the honour to be Professor of Nonsense--meet to do honour to our friend Icarus, at the old-established howff, Cramond Bridge. One place is vacant, fascinating stranger,--I offer it to you!'

'And who is your friend Icarus?' I asked,

'The aspiring son of Daedalus!' said he. 'Is it possible that you have never heard the name of Byfield?'

'Possible and true,' said I.

'And is fame so small a thing?' cried he. 'Byfield, sir, is an aeronaut. He apes the fame of a Lunardi, and is on the point of offering to the inhabitants--I beg your pardon, to the nobility and gentry of our neighbourhood--the spectacle of an ascension.

ST. Ives Page 110

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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